The judicial investigator is asking MPs to investigate the current and former ministers from 2013 when 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate arrived at the port of Beirut.
Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanon’s chief investigator has asked parliament to investigate ten former ministers whom it suspects are responsible for the conditions that led to the devastating August 4th explosion that killed nearly 200 people, according to a court source were killed.
In a letter to parliament, judicial investigator Fadi Sawan asked members of parliament to investigate all current and former ministers of finance, justice and public works from September 2013 when a cargo ship loaded with about 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate arrived at the capital of the port of Beirut.
The highly explosive chemicals were left behind in Hangar 12 of the port for almost seven years until they exploded on August 4, devastating large parts of the city, injuring more than 6,500 people in addition to those killed and rendering thousands homeless.
So far, around 25 people have been arrested and 33 have been charged in the blast probe. Almost 50 other people, including current and former ministers and heads of security agencies, were heard as witnesses.
“Investigations [Sawan] Working with current and former ministers, suspicions have been raised of these ministers’ responsibility and their failure to combat the presence of ammonium nitrate in the port and use it responsibly despite the danger, ”the source told Al Jazeera.
Ministers mentioned in Sawan’s letter include current and former Justice Ministers Marie-Claude Najem, Albert Sarhan and Salim Jreissati; current and former Finance Ministers Ghazi Wazni and Ali Hasan Khalil; and current and former Public Works Ministers Michel Najjar, Youssef Fenianos, Ghazi Zeaiter and Ghazi Aridi.
“Each of these ministers was aware of the presence of ammonium in the port, whether through written correspondence that reached them or through the port administration or through reports from the security services in the port, but they made no decisive decisions about it,” the source said.
Sawan’s decision to ask parliament to investigate ministers is based on an interpretation of political immunity that removes ministers and heads of state from its jurisdiction.
He believes that a specialized body known as the Supreme Court for Trials of Presidents and Ministers, made up of seven MPs and eight judges – can investigate ministers and ultimately bring them to justice.
The panel has never held a minister accountable, in part because of the high bar for initiating proceedings: the approval of two-thirds of the 128-member Lebanese legislature.
Elias Hankash, a former MP and member of the Supreme Court who resigned after the explosion in Beirut, told Al Jazeera that the court “will not be able to do anything because the ministers are chosen by this parliament and the MPs are not the people who do them or represent their allies, hold them accountable ”.
He says ministers should be tried in the ordinary courts – a stance adopted by the Beirut Bar Association, which represents hundreds of explosion victims.
The families of many victims, along with local and international rights groups, have voiced fears that the Lebanese investigation will not bring all those responsible for the explosion to justice and called for an international investigation instead.
Meanwhile, Parliament’s Secretary-General Adnan Wollen told Al Jazeera on Wednesday morning that he had not yet received Sawan’s letter.
However, the judiciary source said the letter will go to the Ministry of Justice first according to the procedure and then sent to Parliament and that it should arrive shortly.